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2016 in Review

I was so tickled pink with how my 2015 Year in Review infographic turned out, that there were no hesitations to creating a 2016 year in Review to follow up with! {If you missed my 2015 year in review you can check it out HERE}

Oooh buddy, if I thought 2015 was a crazy year full of changes, I clearly had ZERO foresight as to what 2016 was going to bring my way! I started off the year with some of the most amazing fireworks I may ever see in my life, followed by Caitlin's visit and then my amazing 2 week trek through Cambodia and Thailand that was surely a trip of a lifetime. Later in the year I was visited by Mason and my mom along with competing in my first ever Dragon Boat Races! I capped off my Asian adventures with a week in each Japan and China and checked off a huge bucket list item by camping on the Great Wall of China {I still can't believe those pictures are really me up there!}

I made the difficult decision early in the summer that I was going to say goodbye to Taiwan and move back to the United States. This started my marathon application process to schools across the state of Ohio complete with 3am skype interviews and the ever revolving door of questions as to why I wanted to move back home {truthfully, I miss it more and more each day I'm home}. I eventually found myself a wonderful 2nd grade teaching position back here in Ohio and phase 2 of "welcome home" stated as I frantically began to look for a home and vehicle {sadly my scooter was unshippable!} to adjust back to life in America.

It's been one heck of a crazy year 2016, but I thank you for all you have given to me!

Tokyo Highlights Video

Finally, I'm done with another video! Life keeps trudging on and my blog gets away from me, but I promise that I haven't forgotten {{and that I have even more adventures in store for you coming up!}}

After I finished my first Thailand video I was over the moon excited with how it turned out and just knew that I wanted to work on several others from my year abroad. But, they take time, and life keeps going {see above lol}....ok, no more excuses, without further ado, I present to you, My Tokyo Highlights!

If you missed any of my posts from Japan, you can check them out here! {Traveling & Day 1{Day 2 - Shrines} {Tokyo Disnyland} {Fish Market & Harajuku}

Beijing Bell & Drum Towers

Clearly life has gotten the best of me & 4 months have gone by since I landed back in the USA {{HOW HAVE 4 MONTHS GONE BY ALREADY???}} and I'm just now getting around to finishing my last 2 days in Beijing. 

July 12, 2016

Don't get me wrong, there were tons, TONS of things I didn't get to do in Beijing, but many of them were going to require more time than what an exhausted Tracy had remaining on the day we returned from hiking & sleeping on the Wall...so, we took it easy for the afternoon and checked off a couple last minute places within the city limits and enjoyed soaking up my last couple hours of exploring and living in Asia.

When I went to Tokyo, Japan earlier this year it was officially my first time ever traveling alone ALONE to a foreign country without knowing anyone when I stepped off the plane. Japan was country number one, and since I obviously survived, China quickly followed as country number two. Since I was traveling alone I became even more regretful for meeting great friends along the way through my overnight on the Great Wall!  Cameron & John ( from Connecticut) had an early flight the day we returned from the Wall so sadly we had to part ways with them, but Raphael from California, Lauren from the UK, Amy an Englisher living in New Zealand & I hit it off well and since we were all traveling solo, we spent much of the remainder of our times in China traveling and eating together...ok, let's be honest, I really do more eating than anything while I travel! 

This last post on Beijing is going to be more of a picture dump than a lovingly written out 7 page blog post, but I hope you enjoy these pictures as much as I loved and treasured my time in China!

The day after our big hike, we awoke around 4:30 am with the sun rising, the birds chirping, and our adrenaline pumping...we were waking up and starting our day on THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA! We were scheduled to begin our decent back the wall around 7:30 that morning, so that left us a good 2-3 hours to pack our things and of course, go for a morning hike. The 6 of us hiked to the end of the wall where the military had put up fencing to block hikers, about 0.5 miles from our campsite, and after  absorbing the last of the views and pinching ourselves one last time to make sure what we were seeing was really true, we packed our bags, loaded our gear onto our backs, and began our climb down. Another 2.5 hours in the van later, along with several MUCH deserved naps, and we were back in Beijing, and the heart of China. 

The 6 of us traded contact info, headed back to our hotels, showered, and were back together before we knew it to spend the afternoon sightseeing around Beijing some more!

{{first stop, the Beijing Bell Tower, built in 1272, this tower was used both for time keeping as well as musical instrument of sorts}}

{{the building was located just south of the forbidden city in the heart of Beijing}}

{{just as Lauren & I got to the tower we heard the bells begin to ring...we began to rush to the top of the tower...needless to say, these steps were NOT a welcome sight after climbing the Wall earlier this morning}}

{{we mad it just in time...to miss the show...luckily we went back up about 30 minutes later with Raphael & Amy and caught the show the 2nd time around}}

{{out of the original 25 drums (1 large & 24 small) only the large one remains and replicas of the smaller ones have been added}}

{{click above for a quick listen to the sounds of the drum tower}}

{{directly across from the drum tower is the Beijing Bell Tower also constructed in 1272 the tower has a huge painted bell at the top}}

{{views from the bell tower...look closely to spot the Forbidden City}}

{{after climbing & touring the 2 towers it was clearly snack time...and these fresh fruit popsicles more than hit the spot!}}

{{well...food...mango popsicle & warm yogurt drink}}

{{and after snack...clearly it's lunch time!...egg rolls && appatizers all around to share}}

{{I'm pretty adventurous when it comes to trying new food...but when you name your restaurant "Wang Pang Zi Donkey Burger" and boast of selling donkey burgers...I just have to laugh and shank my head NO thanks!}}

{{east meets west...asian arches framing a starbucks down the street!}}

{{clearly 3 hours after lunch we are famished again and ready for dinner...we spent the afternoon hunting around for a peking duck restaurant (did you really visit Beijing if you didn't eat peking duck?!) it must have been a legit peking duck restaurant as not a single waitress in the place spoke english, so we had to rely on our 50 some page menu filled with pictures and MY Chinese skills [aka terrible!] to order dinner for the 5 of us...including 1 whole duck}}

{{and when I say whole duck, I mean WHOLE duck...they cut the head off in front of you!}}

{{and it was SO worth it! peking duck is served in what I called duck tacos. You are given a super thin wrapper that resemble tortillas that is made from wheat, roasted duck, green onions & cucumber spears along with a fermented soybean sauce to dip your meat in. You roll everything up into the tiniest taco you ever did see and enjoy 1, 2, 3...ok, WAY too many of them!}}

Overnight on the Great Wall

If you missed out on my first day in Beijing and the Forbidden City, you can check it out {HERE}!

Monday, July 11

So, I apologize, I fibbed, just a bit. In my last post I told you I visited the Forbidden City and then went to bed that night...not exactly...I was determined, and until I thought I had exhausted the last of my resources I didn't go to bed until WAY too late. 

Going to Beijing I knew for certain that I just HAD to go to the Great Wall, I mean, did you REALLY go to Beijing if you didn't see the wall?! Getting to Beijing I figured I'd hop on a tour bus, spend a long day checking out the wall and then head back to the city; as time progressed though I grew more and more determined to spend more than just ONE day on the wall though {a little foresight would have gone a l.o.n.g way here}. I collapsed in my bed after my first night exploring the Forbidden City pulled out my laptop and started investigating...who had last minute openings to spend a night on the wall?? I sent out several desperate email attempts and assuming that no one would answer me past midnight, quickly fell asleep.

The next morning I woke up e.a.r.l.y and excitedly checked my emails "Dear Tracy, I am happy to receive your email, I have one overnight trip leaving this morning at 9:30am, please reply if you are able to make it"....BINGO! I hit reply, threw a couple things in my backpack, ran to the bank to exchange some more money and headed to our meeting location just in the nick of time (ok maybe a few minutes late...but hey, I made it!) We loaded the 6 of us plus our guide Sonya into a van and we were off with adrenaline pumping through my veins!

Close to 2.5 hours later we climbed out of the van and were greeted in Chinese by an elderly lady that ran a small guest house of sorts out of her home located at the base of the wall. We stretched ourselves out and sat down for a traditional Chinese lunch before filling our backpacks with water and starting our adventure! There was a trail leading up to a portion of the wall within less than 10 minutes walking from this woman's home {can you even imagine saying that you live RIGHT next to the Great Wall of China?!} We hiked for just over 3 hours (our Chinese-only speaking guide, Cameron & John from Connecticut, Raphael from California, Lauren from the UK, Amy an Englisher herself living in New Zealand, && myself) and covered roughly 5 miles along the wall. Now before you begin judging us for our slow walking capabilities; our hike was full of  large hills small mountains, quite uneven rocks, and the heat index was well over 105! But we had a BLAST!

When you generally see pictures of the Great Wall you see {this} large beautifully redone portions of the wall, with safely rebuilt steps, handrails, side guards, and thousands of people...I didn't want any of that! There were several portions we walked on that hard large chucks of the wall missing where it was only safe for 1 person to cross at a time, we were constantly slipping on the uneven rocks we were walking on, and falling off the side of the wall was a real  easy possibility for a good 80% of our hike...and it was all AMAZING! Yet to boot, in the 3 hours we hiked, we saw 4 people...we had the wall to ourselves, and let me tell you, to say that the views were breathtaking doesn't even begin to do it justice, it just completely takes your breath away and reminded me so much of another similar awe inspiring experience HERE.

From the highest points on the wall you could see out for miles upon miles; the lush rolling mountains, teensy tiny little towns scattered about, and the wall spreading out like spider arms in every direction you looked. It was truly indescribable!

Just when we thought we couldn't walk any further we started our decent down and were met by our van from early in the day that took us back to the small guest house. Here we were armed with large hiking backpacks full of our gear for the night along with our dinner and we quickly headed up a small dirt path leading to a watch tower that would serve as our home for the night!

To summarize our evening: 

- Eat dinner on the Great Wall of China...check
- Play card games on the Great Wall of China...check
- Walk barefooted on the Great Wall of China...check
- Share beers with new friends on the Great Wall of China...check
- Watch the sunset on the Great Wall of China...check {though thanks to smog it wasn't too pretty lol}
- Pitch a tent & sleep on the Great Wall of China...check!
- Experiance total and complete darkness, wake up at 4:30 in the morning to the sound of the birds and bugs coming alive, watch the sunrise, and go for a morning walk all on the Great Wall of China...check, check, & double check!

Guys, I've said it before and I hope I can say it again, but this truly was a once in a life time experience that I will never forget! Some people say that I'm crazy, or super adventurous, or that I can't sit still. While all these things may be slightly true ;) why not embrace them?! There is so much of this amazing world to go out and see, you just have to be open enough to grab life by the horns and let it take you where it wills!

Like my favorite Magic School Bus teacher always said:

Beautiful Beijing & The Forbidden City

Saturday, June 9 - Sunday, June 10

Remember several months ago when Tina and I boarded a plane headed for Thailand and I was all but peeing my pants with excitement?!?! Yeah, I wasn't quite as excited {most likely just because I'm not sure that's physically possible to be more excited} but I was pretty darn close...I was heading to China!

The Great Wall has always been such an intriguing landmark to me, but so out of reach from Northwest Ohio that I never wanted to dream too big {{lesson learned!}}

My last day in Taiwan was Saturday, July 9 and I was so full of mixed emotions as Clement and Director Chen drove me to the airport; heartbroken to be leaving a country I had fallen in love with, excited to be seeing my friends and family so soon, nervous about traveling through China alone, tired from lack of sleep...truly...everything was hitting me at once. We said our goodbyes and as they drove away it finally hit me and the tears began to fall...my wonderful, amazing, and life-changing year of teaching in Taiwan was over. Lucky for me though, a quick 3 hour nap landed me in the heart of Beijing at Beijing Capital Airport...China here we go!

I hopped on the Airport Express line connecting to the subway and headed downtown towards my hostel, Saga Youth Hostel {PS-if you're heading to Beijing anytime soon I HIGHLY recommend this hostel!}. I arrived around 7pm and after situating myself in my bunk, I met several of the guys in my dorm room and after talking for a bit we decided to head out together for dinner. Marcus, from Germany, suggested a large night market about 20 walking minutes away, so we headed out. One of the many things I love about traveling alone and staying in hostels is meeting so many people along the way and the discussions that come along with these new-found friendships. We enjoyed our evening at the market sampling some dumplings, meet skewers, sugar coated cherry tomatoes, and ending our scorching hot evening with delicious mango ice cream!

Waking up Sunday morning I hit the ground running early on, I only had 6 days in Beijing and I had to make the most of it! After grabbing some street-food breakfast meal I hopped on the subway headed for Tiananmen Square & the Forbidden City {only 2 subway stops from my hostel!} to begin my day.

Walking out of the subway station I found myself standing right in the middle of Tiananmen Square and was in awe both at the size of the square as well as the sheer amount of people {and umbrellas for the sun!} that were covering the square. I walked around the square for a while before I found the underpass leading to the entrance gates of the Forbidden City. Now I paid attention in history class {more or less..} and I knew the Forbidden City was big and all, but oh my gosh...it was HUGE! The 950+ building cover around 180 acres of land and while you are walking from one building to the next, you look out and the layout gives the impression that the Forbidden City (the palace from 1412 - 1920) goes on for forever.

When entering the city I decided to purchase the GPS audio guide they were offering and was so glad I did! Other than being an amazing map (no place in China that I went to had maps for people!) it kept track of where you were with a blinking red light, and upon approaching an important area or building would begin telling you about the location until you moved on. By using the guide I was not only able to keep track of where in the palace museum I was, but also what else there was to see ahead of me (aka, tons!) The architecture of the palace buildings reminded me a lot of many of the temples in Taiwan, both in structure as well as color choices. Although we were not permitted to enter many of the buildings, many of them were set up with furniture and artifacts from the emperors and it was neat to see the period pieces from a culture so different from my own! After 4+ hours of walking {99% of which was outside} in temperatures reaching the high 90's, I decided that I could only see so much of the palace in one day and headed back to my hostel to cool down for a bit.

After a quick cool down and power nap {never underestimate the power of an afternoon power-nap!} I headed back out for the evening towards the Temple of Heaven. Though not entirely far from my hostel, by the time I got there they had stopped selling tickets to enter inside the temple, so I opted to buy a ticket to simply walk the gardens around this iconic 200-year-old temple. Although I was bummed I couldn't go inside the temple {haha you know how I love my temples!} the gardens around it were beautiful and I loved getting a glimpse at the evey day life of many Chinese people. There were small groups of people covering virtually every flat space of the gardens playing cards and mahjong, men and women alike; it was quite fun to see!

Once I left the gardens, and after grabbing a snack at a local bakery since I was STARVING!, I headed off in the direction of the local silk market. The hostel had posters of recommended sights in Beijing and little bits of info about each one and after noticing the market was open late (many things closed between 4 & 6) I figured it might be a fun way to spend my first evening in China! Getting to the silk market was a breeze and I quickly located a small restaurant with an ever  instant waiter and figured I'd give it a try...I mean where else can you get a "fast food", duck sandwich for dinner!!! I enjoyed my sandwich along with the free fries and nuggets they brought me out later as well! :)

Walking just a couple feet from the duck restaurant I found myself in the midst of the silk market. This 8 story building is filling with vendors trying their hardest to sell you anything and everything under the sun. Every two feet had someone shouting "hey pretty lady" or "do you need a..." and "I give you good price". I just had to laugh....things we never see in America! I browsed the isles for a while before buying my brother a Beijing soccer jersey and told myself I'd be back again when I had a little more sleep on my hands! Back to the hostel I went and after a little online research for the rest of my Beijing stay...I quickly crashed...midnight comes all too soon when you're traveling!